In addition to being the ultimate source of all life on earth, the sun is an infinitely renewable, completely pollution-free source of energy. Solar panels convert the Sun's light directly into electricity, all while producing no harmful emissions.

The basic unit of a solar panel is a solar cell, which usually consists of one or two layers of silicon-based semiconductor wafers. When struck by the photons in sunlight, the solar cell generates an electrical charge due to the "photovoltaic effect". The flow of these electrons moves in a steady electrical current from one side of the cell to the other.

Dozens of these photovoltaic (PV) cells are packaged together into solar modules, which in turn are packaged into solar panels that are mounted on a rooftop and arranged to maximize their exposure to direct sunlight. Because the electricity generated by all those solar cells is direct current (DC), it is then sent to an inverter that transforms the power into the same alternating current (AC) used by the appliances in your home and the local utility electricity distribution grid.

This compatibility with the grid is important, because for a variety of reasons most homes with solar only use it to provide a portion of their electricity needs, relying on local utility supplies for backup when the sun isn't shining or if extra power is needed. The electricity produced by these panels is integrated seamlessly into your existing electricity service.

Not Cutting the Cord – Improving Your Home

Understanding that solar panels work with your existing electricity service instead of replacing it completely is key to understanding the economics behind this particular Home Improvement. Solar panel prices have plummeted in recent years, as the industry achieves greater and greater economies of scale. These declining costs are a big reason why solar PV is everywhere these days, from solar-charging backpacks to huge power plants in the desert. So the sooner you take advantage of this growing technology, the sooner you can improve the efficiency of your house, taking you one step closer to a 100% clean energy home.